“Political Trailblazer”

Guest Writer: Bishop Hartsel Clifton Shirley

America’s current political state has the country waiting with bated breath for the first Black Vice President, Kamala Harris. Very few people know or even remember that not too long ago, there was a Black Gay man who was nominated for that position as well.

Mel Boozer has the distinction of being nominated at the Democratic National Convention (DNC), becoming the first openly Black and gay person to be nominated for such a high office. He received just short of 50 votes, but in a poignant speech, he declined the nomination. He urged delegates to help fight discrimination against people who are Black and gay.

This was an international moment for Black gay men and women; it was a culmination of years of personal growth by Boozer to stand and say, “I am.”

Boozer grew up in the ghettos of Washington D.C., graduating near the very top of his high school class (salutatorian). He went on to study at Dartmouth College, one of three Black students admitted in 1963.

Graduating from Dartmouth in 1967 with a degree in sociology, Boozer was able to spend many years in Brazil volunteering for the Peace Corp. In Brazil, he acknowledged and accepted his sexuality.

Returning to the United States in the mid-70s, Boozer completed graduate work at Yale University.  While studying for his PhD., he explored  Greenwich Village’s gay community. And after completing his Ph.D., he became a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland. It was during this time that Boozer became more active in the D.C. gay rights scene.

In 1979, Boozer was selected to be president of the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA) of Washington, D.C., where he served two terms.  Serving as the first Black GAA president, he became “a leading moderate voice among Black gays nationally.” While president of the GAA, he helped the organization win unanimous passage of the Sexual Assault Reform Act by the D. C. Council, which decriminalized sodomy and rescinded solicitation laws for consenting adults.

Boozer’s leadership helped enable the GAA to place a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. The gay rights organization  also won a court battle with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, obtaining the right to place Metrobus posters stating, “Someone in Your Life is Gay.”

In 1980, Mel Boozer was given the distinct honor of being nominated for Vice President by the Socialist Party USA and by petition at the  Democratic National Convention. His speech was televised nationally during prime-time T.V. In this speech, he admonished the party to support LGBT people. The following quote has been much noted,

Boozer continued his work on behalf of the LGBT community, being hired by the National Gay Task Force and founding the Langston HughesEleanor Roosevelt Democratic Club to advocate for Black LGBT people in D.C.

On March 6, 1987, at just 41 years old, Mel Boozer died of an AIDS-related illness.   Recognized in June 2019 as “one of the inaugural fifty American pioneers, trailblazers, and heroes,” he was inducted on the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor within the Stonewall National Monument (SNM) at New York City’s Stonewall Inn.  The activist’s legacy lives on.


  1. Mel Boozer – Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melvin_Boozer


  1. The Atlantic: “Mel Boozer Said What Pete Buttigieg Can’t”



  1. https://benwilliamsblogger.blogspot.com/2013/08/this-day-in-gay-utah-history-august-14th.html

Bishop Hartsel Clifton Shirley is an author, writer, singer/songwriter, and bishop from Waterloo, Iowa. He received his master’s degree in business from the International Business Management Institute based in Berlin, Germany.

Currently residing in Atlanta, Mr. Shirley is a bishop of National and International Social Action, part of New Direction Overcomers’ International Fellowship (based in Richmond, Virginia).   

A multi-faceted talent, Hartsel is a writer, author, and singer/songwriter.  A bronze prize winner of the International Society of Poets, he has penned editorials for the Waterloo/Cedar Falls Courier. His best-selling novel is entitled Three Words, Four Letters, published by Ishai Books.  Additionally, Hartsel has charted at #1 several times on the ReverbNation pop music charts.  

Inspired by Langston Hughes, Bishop Shirley states, “I write what moves me.  There is nothing I can’t write. I just have to care about it so I can write truthfully.”

Hartsel’s upcoming works include Three Words and Four Letters–the second and third installments of his first novel–along with his third music project, Rebel with A Cause.

Bishop Shirley can be emailed at hartselshirley@gmail.com